Sunday, February 18, 2018

MNLF-Misuari: MNLF BAF Command Conference Program

Posted to the Facebook page of Ustadz Murshi Ibrahim, Secretary General of the Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari) (Feb 17): MNLF BAF Command Conference Program

IST DAY, 17 FEB. 2018 :
1. Qur'anic Reading -
2. Invocation -
3. Flag Raising and Singing of Bangsamoro National Hym
4. Welcome Remarks -
5. Acknowledgement of Participants
6. Message by Lt. Gen. Abraham Joel, BAF Chief of Staff
7. Reports on the Status of the MNLF - GPH PEACE TRACK and on Foreign Issues.

U.S. flexes muscle in the Philippines amid concerns vs China

From  Rappler (Feb 18): U.S. flexes muscle in the Philippines amid concerns vs China

'We wish to continue working closely with the Philippine military,' says Lieutenant Commander Tim Hawkins, USS Carl Vinson public affairs officer
United States aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, its fleet of about 40 fighter jets, and about 5,000 American sailors arrived in Manila this week in a display of American presence in the Philippines amid growing concerns about China's activities inside the waters of the US ally.
The aircraft carrier is in Manila for a 5-day port visit after sailing the South China Sea. It came with the guided missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy, which made a port call to Manila for the first time.
"The region is so important because not only is it very diverse but there's a lot that takes place with respect to the global economy. Keeping our sea lanes open in this region is important not only for the United States but for everybody," Lieutenant Commander Tim Hawkins told Rappler on Saturday, February 17.

Rappler spoke with Hawkins during a tour of the aircraft carrier when it was docked in Manila Bay.
The Carl Vinson Strike Group returned to the region as China's activities in the western and eastern seaboards of the Philippines prompt concerns.

The US has said it is committed to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where a large percentage of global trade passes through, amid China's overarching claims on the sea.

Duterte officials aboard aircraft carrier

Before the aircraft carrier arrived in Manila, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim hosted top government officials aboard the aircraft carrier while it was in the high seas of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar were present.
The aircraft carrier was also in the region last year. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II were the first officials of the Duterte government to tour the ship.

President Rodrigo Duterte has warmed ties with China to fulfill his declaration of pivoting the country's foreign policy away from the US, its longtime ally.

Duterte threatened to scrap a defense treaty with the US after the administration of former president Barack Obama criticized his anti-drug campaign. He was kinder to Obama's successor, Donald Trump, who supposedly praised his centerpiece campaign.

Growing China concerns

The Philippine president's pivot to China, however, has very strong critics.

Critics recently assailed a permit granted to China by the Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct research within the vicinity of Benham Rise in the eastern seaboard of the Philippines, an area where China has made no claims.

China apparently named maritime features in the underground plateau, which has been declared part of the Philippine continental shelf.

This came after close-up aerial photos of its artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea were released to show the near completion of what are believed to be military facilities there. Among the reefs it reclaimed is Mischief Reef, a maritime feature inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano sought to dismiss the concerns as the country warms relations with China. He said China gave assurances it will stop construction activities in the West Philippine Sea.

In addition, the aircraft carrier's arrival came after China reportedly deployed a warship to shoo away a US destroyer for sailing too close to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a rocky sandbar located off the coast of Zambales province in the Philippines. (READ: China says U.S. warship near Panatag violated 'sovereignty')

US presence
 The aircraft carrier is based in San Diego, California, but it is deployed around the world to maintain visible American presence.

The primary mission of USS Carl Vinson is to conduct sustained combat air operations if and when necessary. It also helps defends air and sea lanes and provides humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The US embassy in Manila says the Carl Vinson is in the South China Sea as part of its operations in the Indo-Pacific region to promote freedom of the seas and enhance regional security.
"The aircraft carrier [promotes freedom of the seas] just by conducting routine operations – flying and sailing wherever international law allows. It's very important. We have been operating here for more than 70 years. Just think about that. That's 70 years where there has been relative peace which underscores and underwrites prosperity," said Hawkins.
"One of the ways that we have been able to influence this region in a positive way is to just operate here and conduct routine operations. When we do that, we reassure our allies, we reassure our partners, and we continue to build that cooperation that is so important."

U.S. seeks to continue 'working closely' with Philippine military

From Rappler (Feb 18): U.S. seeks to continue 'working closely' with Philippine military

'The Philippines is one of our 5 allies in the region. We've had a close relationship for a very long time and we want to continue that relationship,' says a spokesman of the US Navy's Carl Vinson Strike Group   

A spokesman of the Carl Vinson Strike Group of the United States Navy stressed the importance of the superpower's military ties with the Philippines as it commits to defend freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

The massive USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier that hosts 72 aircraft and over 5,000 American sailors arrived in Manila this week, along with guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy for a routine port call after sailing in the disputed seas. (READ: U.S. flexes muscle in the Philippines amid concerns vs China)

"We appreciate the people of the Philippines and the government of the Philippines for hosting us. We're very excited to be here and we wish to continue working closely with your military," Lieutenant Commander Tim Hawkins told Rappler on Saturday, February 17.

"The Philippines is one of our 5 allies in the region. We've had a close relationship for a very long time and we want to continue that relationship," he added.

Hawkins pointed out the need for the US to collaborate with its allies when it is operating in the region.

"When we operate in the western Pacific or in the South China Sea or whatever body of water we are operating throughout the Indo-Pacific, we feel it is very important to do it collaboratively. [We want] to do it with our partners and with our allies because ensuring that [the region is] stable and the sea lanes are open helps out everyone," he said.

The Philippines is the US' longest treaty ally in Asia but their ties were threatened by President Rodrigo Duterte's pivot to China.

Duterte sought to scrap treaties with the US after the previous Obama administration criticized his anti-drug campaign. He was kinder to new US President Donald Trump, who supposedly praised his centerpiece campaign.

Duterte was also later forced to acknowledge the strong ties between the Philippine and US militaries. (READ: Duterte's pivot to China won't be easy for Americanized Philippine military)

The Carl Vinson Strike Group arrived in the region amid growing concerns over China's activities in Philippine waters – on Mischief Reef in the West Philippine Sea and in Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean.

Back in January, China also deployed a warship to shoo away US destroyer USS Hopper when it supposedly sailed near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a rocky sandbar off the coast of Zambales province in the Philippines.

Hawkins said the Carl Vinson Strike Group has not conducted freedom of navigation operations in the region, stressing that it is a specific deployment different from routine operations. He refused to divulge its next operations in the region after the port call in Manila.

"The most exciting thing that we've had this deployment is the fact that we've had an opportunity to stop in Manila. We also had an opportunity to host some dignitaries, many from the government of the Philippines, and that was super exciting. I would say that's been the most exciting news we've had. Otherwise it's been pretty routine," he said.

IN PHOTOS: The PMA's colorful Trooping the Line tradition

From Rappler (Feb 18): IN PHOTOS: The PMA's colorful Trooping the Line tradition

The Trooping the Line tradition is one of the highlights of the annual Philippine Military Academy alumni homecoming celebration

ALUMNI PARADE. Philippine Military Academy alumni carry out the Trooping the Line tradition at Fort Gregorio del Pilar's Borromeo Field. All photos by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

ALUMNI PARADE. Philippine Military Academy alumni carry out the Trooping the Line tradition at Fort Gregorio del Pilar's Borromeo Field. All photos by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The predominantly green and brown Philippine Military Academy (PMA) got a splash of color on Saturday, February 17.

It was the annual alumni homecoming ceremony, and PMA alumni as well as their spouses wore attire of all hues for the much-anticipated Trooping the Line ceremony.

Alumni, grouped by batch, paraded in front of cadets in formation at the academy's Borromeo Field.

All seemed dressed to impress.

Classmates of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, for one, were in suits and red hats with "73" stitched on them.

"Mistahs" of Interior and Local Government Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año wore navy blue jackets with an "83" patch on their right chest.

Younger batches, like those from the Class of 2013, had their female batchmates in front.

The oldest batches, meanwhile, just had a handful of alumni left. It was a one-man parade for the Class of 1961, with former senator Rodolfo Biazon marching for his classmates.

Ideally, for the Trooping the Line ceremony, cadets stand in formation on one side of the field. Coming from the east is a parade of alumni who will inspect the cadets' posture, formation, and general well-being in the academy.

But because scrutiny would take too long, the alumni just walk in front of the cadets, said PMA spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Rey Balido. All the same, the cadets stayed put throughout the program.

After the parade, the alumni made a formation of their own, facing the cadets. They sang the PMA Alma Mater Song to conclude the program, then got together with schoolmates from other batches.

Here are photos of the colorful tradition.

But what kind of Bangsamoro Basic Law will be passed before March 23?

From MindaNews (Feb 18): But what kind of Bangsamoro Basic Law will be passed before March 23?

The two houses of Congress have given assurances they will pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before they go on recess on March 24. But with eight versions being consolidated in Congress –four in the House and four in the Senate — what kind of Bangsamoro law will be passed?

At the entrance of the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) compound here on Thursday, most of the messages on cartolina and tarpaulin that greeted the 10 members of the joint committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, urged Congress to pass the “BBL-BTC version,” referring to the draft law crafted by the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) composed of 11 members nominated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 10 nominated by the government.

The ten-member delegation from the House of Representatives were met with these messages during the public hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Cotabato City on 15 February 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAs

The chairs of the three committees — Pedro Acharon of General Santos (Local Government), Mauyag Papandayan, Jr. of Lanao del Sur (Muslim Affairs) and Ruby Sahali of Tawi-tawi (Peace, Reconciliation and Unity) — led the 10-member delegation to the hearing that started at 2 p.m. and was over in two hours and 30 minutes.

Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, author of one of four bills filed in the House, was also present.

Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair and concurrent BTC chair, told MindaNews after the public hearing that they expect a BBL that is “acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.”

The BBL is the legal expression of the political agreement — the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and MILF on March 27, 2014 — to pave the way for the creation of the Bangsaoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“What kind of BBL will you not accept?” MindaNews asked. His reply: “If not acceptable to the Bangsamoro. Lower than ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). And watered down.”

The BTC version — one of four versions of the proposed law in the House and one of four in the Senate — is expected to be “watered down” when all these bills are consolidated and rid of provisions that will reportedly invite questions of constitutionality and provisions not to the liking of vested interest groups.

The draft BBL was submitted by the BTC to President Rodrigo Duterte on July 17 last year in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang and witnessed by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr., The draft was expected to have been vetted by the Office of the President as it took a month before copies were transmitted to the offices of Pimentel and Alvarez.

Still, President Duterte and former President Arroyo had repeatedly said questions of constitutionality should be avoided.

It was under Arroyo’s administration when the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was signed by the government and MILF in late July 2008 but its formal signing on August 5, 2008 was aborted because the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order a day earlier. The High Court later struck it down for being unconstitutional but acknowledged that it is a “significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001” and that “the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original.”

Supreme Court

Former President Arroyo told the audience that the law that they will pass should be one that will bring lasting peace and “papasa sa Supreme Court” (will pass the Supreme Court)

“Yung BTC version, hanggang kaya, pero yung version na papasa sa Supreme Court” (We’ll work on the BTC version as much as possible, but it should be a version that will pass the Supreme Court).

Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (second from left), with Tawi-tawi rep. Ruby Sahali (left) and Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema and North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco to her right at the public hearing on the Bangsarmoro Basic Law in Cotabato City on 15 February 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

She recalled that when the Supreme Court shot down the MOA-AD, “ang sakit-sakit sa akin” (it was too painful for me).

Late last month, Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, author of HB 6263, one of four Bangsamoro bills filed in the House, had earlier said provisions in the BTC draft that may face questions on constitutionality, had been identified in the subcommittee level while the “constitutionally-acceptable” language was embedded in Arroyo’s HB 6121 and in HB 092 of Maguindanao Rep. and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Bai Sandra Sema, which Dimaporo said is the “16th Congress version.”

“So more or less, at the top of my mind, we retained mga 50 percent of the BTC version. The remaining 50 percent, it’s either we adopt the GMA (Arroyo) version or the 16th Congress version,” Dimaporo said.

Jaafar declined to comment on the estimated 50% retention of the BTC draft but said he was not bothered by it “kasi yang mga lawmakers meron kanya-kanyang opinion so that opinion will be discussed by the committees finally this will be taken (up) in the plenary.”

“Let the people decide”

Even if the signs are pointing to the direction of a “watered down” BBL — having six other versions aside from the BTC draft compared to the previous administration when Congress tackled only the BTC draft before coming up with substitute bills — Jaafar remains optimistic the BTC draft will not be watered down.

Ghazali Jaafar, 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and concurrent chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission at the public hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Cotbato City on1 15 February 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

“The government will not give us BBL which is not complaint to the CAB,” he said, adding the President and Congress know “that the Bangsamoro people will not accept watered down BBL. And so they will try their best to give the Bangsamoro people BBL which is not watered down because all these people now, especially our President gusto niya tahimik na itong lugar natin” (wants our area to be peaceful).

“What if it’s a little bit more than ARMM but not in accordance with the CAB?” MindaNews asked.

Jaafar’s response: “Let the people decide,” but added, “I think they (Congress) will not give us BBL not compliant with the CAB.”

“What is your non-negotiable?” MindaNews asked. Jaafar replied: “We have submitted our BBL. Yun na ang position ng Moro.”

Under the roadmap of the Duterte administration, the BBL was supposed to have been passed by yearend of 2017. Without a Bangsamoro law, the normalization process under the CAB — which includes decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons — will be delayed further, and without a new law, the ARMM elections will proceed as scheduled in May next year.

The filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2019 polls is in October this year. The Commission on Elections had earlier said it needs six months to prepare for a plebiscite to ratify the BBL.

According to the peace agreement, once the basic law is ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which the President will appoint, will take over, until the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro is elected.

Soldier, rebel die in Zamboanga clash

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 17): Soldier, rebel die in Zamboanga clash

Fighting erupted between army soldiers and communist insurgents in Zamboanga del Sur’s Osmena town in southern Philippines that left 2 people dead, officials said on Sunday.

Major Ronald Suscano, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, said soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Battalion led by 1st Lieutenant Abner Pilando engaged members of the New People’s Army in a running gun battle in the village of San Isidro. He said troops were responding to reports that rebels were harassing villagers when they ran into a band of NPA gunmen and firefight ensued.

The weekend fighting killed a soldier and a rebel, Suscano said. “The operating troops were able to intercept the NPAs and figured in a 15-minute firefight which compelled the enemy to scamper from the area,” he said.

Suscano said soldiers also recovered the body of the slain rebel, who identity remains unknown. “One of our soldiers also died in the firefight,” he said.

Major General Roseller Murillo, the division commander, said the operation against the rebels will continue without let-up following the slaying of his soldier. “Our soldier died a hero while protecting our people and our communities. We will vigorously pursue these NPA terrorists until they will be left with no choice but surrender or get killed,” he said.

The rebels have been fighting for many decades now for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country.

ASG-linked pirates attack cargo vessel off Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): ASG-linked pirates attack cargo vessel off Basilan

Philippine Coastguard patrol craft guards the cargo ship, M/V Kudos 1, at the anchorage area along R.T. Lim Boulevard. The cargo ship survives attack by pirates linked with the Abu Sayyaf Group. (Photo courtesy by PCG-Zambo)

Timely response of government forces coupled with evasive maneuver prevented pirates, believed to have ties with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), to hijack a cargo vessel off Basilan, officials said Saturday.

Capt. Joe Anthony Orbe, Naval Task Force 61 commander, said the incident happened at around 10:30 p.m. Friday near Sibago Island, Mohammad Ajul, Basilan province.

The cargo vessel, M/V Kudos 1, was on itsaiden voyage from Davao to Manila when around 12 gunmen aboard three motorboats pursued and tried to board the ship.

The ship, which was loaded with tons of steel bars, is manned by a 27-man crew, including the skipper.

Chris Paul Magligmot, skipper of M/V Kudos 1, fired five rounds of red flare and commanded his crew for an evasive maneuver when they noticed the pursuing gunmen.

The pirates, who are equipped with hooks and ropes, tried but failed to climb on the ship as the other crewmen splashed them with hot water mixed with oil.

One crew was injured by glass shards when the gunmen, armed with high-powered firearms, opened fire hitting the vessel.

Orbe said Navy personnel aboard Patrol Craft-381 stationed near Coco Island rushed to the vicinity of Sibago Island upon seeing the red flares.

“When you see red flare, its a sign that there is trouble (at sea),” Orbe explained.

He said they also deployed Patrol Craft-386, Attack Craft 485, and Naval Special Operations Group personnel aboard on two Rubberized Inflatable Boats upon receiving call from coastguard for assistance.

Lt. Commander Alvin Dagalea, Zamboanga Coastguard Station commander, said they also deployed a vessel to assist the cargo ship in distress.

The 3rd Tactical Operation Wing deployed two night-capable helicopters to provide air support to the responding vessels.

But Orbe said the pirates already left when the responding forces arrived on Sibago Island.

He said pirates could be the same group of gunmen who attacked a Vietnamese cargo vessel last year, also near the island of Sibago.

He said they have instituted measures to prevent a repeat of the incident in the area, which is a commercial sea lane.

Dagalea said they escorted M/V Kudos 1 to the anchorage area along R.T. Lim Boulevard after the incident.

“The ship was not damaged except for some bullet holes,” Dagalea said.

He said coastguard marshals will escort M/V Kudos 1 to its destination.

Police arrest 2 Hapilon followers

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): Police arrest 2 Hapilon followers

Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, PRO-9 director, briefs reporters in a recent press conference about the programs of his office in the region. (Photo file by: Teofilo P. Garcia, Jr.)

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Police here arrested two followers of Isnilon Hapilon, the slain Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader and emir of the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the police reported Saturday.

Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, Police Regional Office (PRO) 9 director, identified them as Sammer Lanjang, who carried the aliases of Abu Sammer and Abu Ziad, and a certain Abu Askabal.

Both were followers of Hapilon, who was killed by government troops during the five-month war last year when the ISIS-inspired Maute group tried to take over Marawi City.

Beltran said Lanjang and Askabal were arrested in a law enforcement operation at around 10:30 a.m. Thursday in front of a fast food chain on Zaragosa Street, Barangay Zone 4, this city.

He said they have standing warrants of arrest for the crimes of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with no recommended bail issued by the court in Isabela City, Basilan province.

He said they were allegedly involved in the kidnapping of 15 workers on June 11, 2001 at the Golden Harvest Plantation in Barangay Tairan, Lantawan, Basilan.

The ASG executed by beheading five of the 15 workers while remaining 10 have either escaped or rescued by pursuing military forces.

Beltran said Lanjang and Askabal were positively identified by witnesses who are under the witness protection program and security benefit program (WPSBP) of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Since January this year, 13 ASG members involved in the Golden Harvest Plantation attack were apprehended by government operatives.

Of the total, 12 of them were arrested in Zamboanga City while one in Isabela City, Basilan province.

Army seizes high-powered arms in 2 Maguindanao towns

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 18): Army seizes high-powered arms in 2 Maguindanao towns

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao -- Soldiers assigned in Maguindanao have recovered high powered guns in two separate areas and arrested one man, the military here bared on Sunday.

On Saturday, joint forces of Datu Piang Municipal Police Station and Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion recovered a firearm during the conduct of law enforcement support operation in Barangay Buayan, Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID), said soldiers seized one Ingram with magazine, two bandoleers for M16 Armalite rifle and two bandoleers for Garand rifle which were hidden in the grassy area of Barangay Buayan.

On Friday, elements of the 57th Infantry Battalion recovered an M-16 rifle from the house of Alimudin Sangcopan, an alleged member of private armed group, in Barangay Labo-labo here.

The soldiers were patrolling Barangay Labo-Labo when a resident informed them that a man with a gun was in a hut.

When soldiers approached Sangcopan’s home, he voluntarily surrendered.

Major Gen. Arnel dela Vega, 6ID commander, lauded the operating units and vowed that the Army would continue to support the local police to get rid Maguindanao of unlicensed guns.

Navy frigate deal: What we need to know

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 18): Navy frigate deal: What we need to know

The Senate on Monday, Feb. 19, will start its probe into the alleged controversies surrounding the PHP16-billion acquisition of two Philippine Navy frigates.

The investigation by the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, headed by Senator Gregorio Honasan, as well as the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act, seeks to determine whether the acquisition of the combat ships "promotes the goals of the modernization program and complies with pertinent laws".

The investigation was initiated by opposition lawmakers in the Senate — Minority Leader Franklin Drilon along with Senators Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, and Antonio Trillanes IV —through Resolution No. 584.

It was filed in the wake of allegations that Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher "Bong" Go endorsed a letter to the defense department regarding the project.

But what was the root of the controversy and how was Go's name dragged into it?

The Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP) is one of the key pieces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization program, as it seeks to provide the country with the capability to deal with air, surface and sub-surface threats.

It will be armed with a variety of missiles and guns capable of defeating such threats.

The acquisition of the two frigates is widely seen as the first step to provide the Philippine Navy with modern and capable warships to protect the country’s vast maritime territories.

‘Done deal’

The FAP contract, which is worth almost PHP16 billion excluding the weapon systems and munitions, was initiated in June 2013 and was awarded during the time of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III under then defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

On Aug. 18, 2016, the notice of award was issued to HHI by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the conforme was signed by HHI on September 13, 2016.

On June 30, 2016, President Rodrigo R. Duterte was inaugurated as the 16th president of the Republic.

In September that year, then-appointed DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana sent the Notice of Award, and shortly after being confirmed by the Commission on Appointments on Oct. 19, signed the FAP contract agreement with the naval shipbuilder.

The Notice to Proceed was issued to HHI on Dec. 13 of the same year.

But for the most part of 2017, the project was stalled at the Critical Design Review (CDR) stage after the Navy and HHI raised conflicting concerns on the combat management system (CMS) to be installed on the frigates.

The CMS is what most call “the brain of a naval combat vessel”, a computer and software system package that integrates all the sensors and weapons systems of the ship into a single system to assure “knowledge superiority” over potential enemies, shorten decision-making cycles, and execute rapid and accurate weapon engagement, especially during combat or security operations.

HHI, citing a provision in the contract, claims “sole right” to choose the CMS maker and selected fellow South Korean company Hanwha Systems as the preferred supplier.

On the other hand, former Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado said that the PN preferred the Tacticos system made by Thales of The Netherlands.

It is the choice for the CMS supplier that will be at the center of Monday’s Senate investigation.

In a privileged speech at the House of Representatives last Jan. 15, Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano claimed that the FAP project’s “design was altered from the original”.

He also accused HHI of surreptitiously inserting “disadvantageous” provisions, or “fine prints”, into the contract that the Navy leadership and Lorenzana were unaware of.

Alejano also questioned the choice of HHI over its main rival for the project, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers of India, which submitted a bid that is PHP700 million lower than the winning bidder.

Aside from this, there are claims that SAP Bong Go allegedly got involved in the choice of the CMS supplier.


The Philippine Daily Inquirer and online news outlet Rappler claimed that Go allegedly gave Lorenzana a “white paper” about the supplier to provide the CMS for the warships sometime in January 2017.

This document was passed on to Mercado with a marginal note, dated Jan. 12, 2017, signed by Lorenzana.

“To Admiral Mercado,” Lorenzana wrote on a post-it. “Ronald, This was given to me by Bong Go. Go over it and prepare a report/rebuttal to be submitted to the Pres.”

The Presidential Management Staff, which Go heads, also asked then Frigate Project Technical Working Group chairman Commodore Robert Empedrad to a meeting in Malacañang to discuss the CMS concern.

However, Go refuted sending the controversial document himself, while Lorenzana flatly denied Go interfered in the warships deal.

"My name has been unfairly dragged in this issue. I am not privy to the frigate transaction of the DND. I have never seen the controversial document that is alleged to have come from me, much less, handed the same to SND Lorenzana," he said in a statement issued on January 17.

"In fact, I will resign if it can be proven that I intervened. It should be emphasized that the frigate project was already a done deal in 2016 during the time of former President Aquino,” Go added.

Lorenzana, Mercado and Empedrad likewise denied that Go intervened in the frigate project.

In a Radyo Pilipinas interview last Jan. 20, Mercado, cleared Go of any interference in the warships deal.

"Ilang beses kami na magkasama ni Secretary Bong Go, ilang beses kaming mag kausap. In fact, pag nag-escort ako kay President (Duterte) aboard foreign navy ships, gaya nung sa China, Pakistan, Japan, ni isang beses 'di kami nag-usap tungkol sa Navy frigate project (Secretary Go and I have met and spoken to each other a number of times, such as when I escorted the President aboard foreign navy ships, such as those of Chine, Pakistan, Japan. But not once did we talk about the Navy frigate project)," Mercado said.

Malacañang also cleared Go of the allegations after conducting an internal probe.

“An investigation has been conducted and it has been found that the allegations of Rappler are untrue and unfounded,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on January 18.

The DND later on announced that the alleged “white paper” originated from Hanwha, one of the proponents for the CMS which was post-qualified by the PN for the FAP.
Timeline in review

For a better perspective on what have transpired thus far regarding the frigate project, the Philippine News Agency (PNA) has obtained a copy of the chronological order of key events relating to the Frigate Acquisition Project.

June 7, 2013 – Former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin signed Acquisition Decision Memorandum No. ‎‎2013-019 to initiate the immediate implementation of the acquisition of two brand new Frigates for the Philippine Navy with an approved budget of PHP18 billion.

Dec. 4, 2013 – The first stage bidding was conducted wherein six proponents were declared eligible by the DND Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC), namely: Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. Ltd. (DSME) – Korea; Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. (Hyundai) – Korea; STX Offshore & Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. (STX O & S) – Korea; STX France S.A. – France; Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineering Ltd. GRSE – India; and Navantia SEP (Navantia) – Spain.

March 17, 2016 – The two lowest cost bidders were declared: Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) with bid price of USD322 million or PHP15,047,704,000 (1USD = PHP46.732); and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) with bid price of USD336,912,000 or PHP15,744,571,584.

April 30 to May 8, 2016 – GRSE was declared non-compliant to the financial requirements of the project as required by Section of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act. Its Net Financial Contracting Capacity (NFCC) was found to be below the approved budget contract of PHP16 billion.

June 16, 2016 – DND Bids and Awards Committee declared HHI as the winning bidder and issued the Notice of Award in its favor.

Sept. 13, 2016 – DND Secretary Lorenzana sent a Notice of Award to Mr. Ki Yeong Sung with a corresponding contract price of PHP 15,744,571,584.00.

Oct. 24, 2016 – A contract agreement was signed by Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, Major Marlon B. Dayao, Comm. Robert A. Empedrad, Kisun Chung (Executive Vice President HHI) and Jae R. Kim (Senior Sales Officer of HHI’s Special and Naval Shipbuilding Division)

Jan. 11, 2017 – Col. Leonardo D. Dela Paz, chief of the DND’s Defense Acquisition Office, informed Mr. Ki Young Sund that the “Remarks on Makers” list are grossly disadvantageous to the PN and to the AFP/DND.

Feb. 8, 2017 - Mr. Ki Yeong Sung wrote a letter to the Defense Acquisition Office saying that HHI is entitled to choose HSC Naval Shield as the combat management system (CMS) for PN frigate, which is beneficial for both PN and HHI.

HHI said it can consider the CMS choice of the Navy if it is “willing to compensate USD9 million per ship which is aggregated sum of price difference for the system and service for installation, test and integration in our shipyard.”

April 1, 2017 - Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado wrote a letter to Lorenzana stating the opinion that “Remarks” provisions in the contract are grossly disadvantageous to the PN and to the AFP/DND, saying: “This remarks, if permitted, are akin to a buyer (PN/DND) with his/her own money being told by the seller HHI on what to buy.”

April 6, 2017 - Col. Dela Paz wrote a memorandum to Lorenzana, stating that the Thales offer, although compliant of the technical specifications, is not commercially competitive in view of the price difference of USD 14,050,000.00 as compared to the offer of HSC Naval Shield.

Commercial competitiveness is one of the requirements stipulated in the “Remarks” provision before the shipbuilder should consider the owner’s preferred maker.

April 20, 2017 - Dela Paz informed the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff for Logistics that Lorenzana has approved the recommendation for the continuation of the Frigate Acquisition Project with the HHI-selected maker of the CMS.

Aug. 10, 2017 - In a memorandum addressed to the AFP Chief-of-Staff, Lorenzana said it is improper for the PN, which had post qualified the HSC Naval Shield CMS, to declare it as non-compliant during the project implementation.

Sept. 14, 2017 - Hanhwa issued a Certificate of Conformance with respect to the request of HHI on the CMS and Link 16 on the new frigates of the PN.

Dec. 8, 2017 - Lorenzana sent a letter to Mr. Kisun Chung, EVP of HHI, informing them that the request for amendments to the contract Agreement of the Payment terms and Delivery Schedule of the 2 units Frigate Acquisition Project is approved.

Dec. 18, 2017 - Mr. Park Moon Yung, Senior VP of HHI, sent a reply-letter to Lorenzana, thanking him for the approval of the amendments to the Contract Agreement of the Payment Terms.

At present, the FAP is proceeding with the other technical specifications of the combat ships.

On Monday, several key personalities mentioned in the frigate project, including representatives from HHI, are expected to attend the Senate investigation to shed light into the issues allegedly hounding the warship deal.

Go and Lorenzana have both welcomed the investigation as the perfect opportunity to air their side so that truth will be finally known.

And come Monday, as the Senate investigation begins and due process takes its course, the real truth will surely come out.

Truth will come out in Senate frigate hearing: PN chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 18): Truth will come out in Senate frigate hearing: PN chief

Nothing but the truth will come out in the Senate's hearing on the Frigate Acquisition Program (FAP) Monday.

This was disclosed by Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad Saturday when asked on what he expects to come out during the investigations.

"Very good. At least the truth will come out," he added.

The PN chief also emphasized that there is no anomaly in the FAP contract which amounted to PHP18 billion including its weapon systems and munitions.

Empedrad also stressed that Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go did not intervene in the project.

"Tomorrow (Monday), the interview will be about that item. Tingin ko naman walang anomalya, walang problema. (I think there is no anomaly or problem.) No intervention," the PN chief stressed.

Earlier, Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano claimed that FAP project was riddled with questionable issues and that its design was altered from the original.

This includes the alleged preference for the Hanwha combat management system (CMS), the lawmaker said.

Aside from this, there are claims that Go allegedly interfered with the FAP.

However, this allegation was dismissed by the Department of National Defense (DND) in a statement last January.

"The President has already addressed the issue of the alleged 'intervention' of the SAP Christopher “Bong” Go in the PN Frigate Acquisition Project," DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said earlier.

"The Secretary of National Defense (Delfin Lorenzana) is confirming that no intervention or interference by Secretary Bong Go happened. The document that the SND alluded to have been given to him by Secretary Bong Go was handed to him at the Palace, so he assumed that it came from Secretary Go, the Special Assistant to the President and Chief of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS). It should be noted that the one of the tasks of the PMS includes the official routing and endorsement of documents to government agencies concerned, for appropriate action," he added.

Andolong said the subject document originated from Hanwha, one of the proponents for the CMS who were post-qualified by the PN for the FAP.

"The SND forwarded it to then Flag-Officer-In-Command of the Philippine Navy (then Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado) for appropriate action, who, in turn, gave it to then Commodore (now Rear Admiral) Robert Empedrad, the Chairperson of the Frigate Project Management Team at the time. Admiral Empedrad wrote a reply to the document stating the preferred CMS of the Philippine Navy, subject to the terms and conditions of the contract," he added.

The DND spokesperson said there was neither hint nor guidance from the Palace or from Go to influence the implementation of the project.

"There is a contract for the FAP which was crafted mainly by the Philippine Navy and it will be implemented strictly to the letter," Andolong pointed out.

PAF now looking for new suppliers of helicopters

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 18): PAF now looking for new suppliers of helicopters

With the cancellation of the Bell 412 EPI contract from Bell Helicopter and Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is now looking again for possible suppliers capable of supplying it with aircraft with similar capabilities.

The possible suppliers and their respective countries would be determined by the research of the technical working group, PAF head Lt. Gen. Galileo Gerard Kintanar said Saturday.

This would follow the same procurement process instituted for the Bell 412 EPI contract, he added.

"As of now we do not want to speculate. the (technical) working group will look into (for) any solution from the east and western countries," Kintanar said.

The Department of National Defense (DND) earlier issued a notice to CCC terminating the contract for the supply and delivery of 16 units of Bell 412 combat utility helicopters for the PAF.

In a statement, DND public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong said this is in compliance with President Rodrigo Duterte's directive and pursuant to the Government Procurement Law (RA 9184) which authorized contract termination for the convenience of the government.

The move comes after the Canadian government ordered the review of the PHP12-billion deal between the DND and CCC after receiving reports that the Philippines is planning to use the helicopters against rebel forces.

"While the combat utility helicopters being purchased are primarily for the purpose of transporting personnel and supplies, the Department believes that it does not owe the Canadian government any justification for an outright purchase of equipment from a privately-owned company," Andolong said.

He also stressed that the DND will continue to pursue the modernization program, and will look into procuring the combat utility helicopters from other countries in lieu of the Bell 412.

Senate probe good opportunity to clear frigate project: DND spox

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 18): Senate probe good opportunity to clear frigate project: DND spox

The Senate's hearing on the Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP) is a good opportunity for the Department of National Defense (DND) to shed light on the matter.

"I (would) like to reiterate that we have been waiting for this opportunity so that the truth may finally be told," DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said Sunday.

And when asked on what the DND plans to present on Monday's hearing, Andolong said they intend to present in full details the FAP and other items in the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.

He added that they fully intend to answer questions that the Senate committee intends to ask on the FAP and other projects.

Andolong also expressed confidence that DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will be cleared of any accusation of wrongdoing.

"I believed so because even during the previous administration everything was aboveboard, when the SND (Secretary of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana) took over he ordered a review of all the projects including this one, and I can say that he has done nothing to suggest that he was involved in any anomaly or manipulation of this project," the DND spokesperson added.

Also, Andolong reiterated that Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go has no involvement or intervention of any kind to the FAP contract worth PHP18 billion, including the weapons systems and munitions.

"Wala talaga siyang involvement. (He has really no involvement.) It was just a simple inquiry, a letter from a sub-component supplier (Hanwha) to the project na nag-clarify lang ng kanyang position on their product na ang ginawa lang naman ni Bong Go, o ng kanyang office, since it was defense-related ipinasa sa DND. (It's just asking for a clarification of his position on their product. Bong Go, or his office, since it was defense-related, they forwarded it to the DND.) Hindi siya mismo ang tumawag (It was not him who called) from what I understand from the Secretary, he did not write any memo suggesting anything except the paper was just sent, walang (there was no) marginalia eh," he added.

Earlier, the DND spokesperson said allegations hurled against the FAP are all just innuendos.

"As far as the DND is concerned, we are not favoring any, some component supplier to the project, we are just dealing with Hyundai (Heavy Industries) even during the bidding process, Republic Act 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) precludes us from giving, favoring any particular manufacturer of the frigate itself," Andolong stressed.

Palace welcomes frigate deal probe; Roque, Go to attend hearing

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 18): Palace welcomes frigate deal probe; Roque, Go to attend hearing

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Sunday expressed optimism that Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go's participation in the Senate probe on the Philippine Navy's Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP) will end speculation of the latter's alleged involvement in the controversial deal.

Together with Go, Roque confirmed his attendance and of Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and another Cabinet member.

"Expect Secretary Go to tell all, and as instructed by the President, he would likely demand for an open and transparent Senate inquiry to show that he -- and the administration -- has nothing to hide as he would squarely answer questions, in full view of the public," the official said in a statement.

Go was accused to have intervened in the FAP contract worth PHP18 billion, including its weapon systems and munitions. He earlier denied the allegation, saying he was unfairly dragged into the mess.

Malacanang and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana have also cleared Go of the accusations, reiterating that allegations hurled against him are "untrue and unfounded."

Roque insists that the project was completed during the term of then President Benigno Aquino III and was just signed on October 24, 2016 during the Duterte administration.

"It was the Aquino administration which chose Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) as supplier of the two frigates, including the supply of the boat, the navigation, the communications, and the combat management systems (CMS)," Roque said.

"It was also during the previous administration that Hyundai was declared the responsive bidder and awarded the two frigates, including the CMS," he added.

In a radio interview, Roque said the administration signed the notice of award pursuant to the Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

When the document arrived at Lorenzana's office, Roque said the defense chief consulted all of his lawyers and even the Philippine Navy officers.

"At dahil wala ngang balakid at sang-ayon sa batas, dapat pirmahan na iyan (And because there is no legal impediment, that should be signed)," he said.

Meanwhile, he cleared that Go's non-involvement in the deal does not mean there's a higher official in the Duterte administration that needs to be held accountable.

"Wala na talagang partisipasyon si SAP Bong Go o kahit sino man sa administrasyon na ito na baguhin pa iyong isang proyekto na na-award na sa isang bidder noong nakalipas na administrasyon (SAP Bong Go or anyone from this administration has no involvement in changing a project that was already awarded to a bidder by the previous administration)," he said.

The official believes that the whole truth is for everyone to digest.

"Asahan na bukas ay lalabas at lalabas na ang pagkakasangkot kay SAP Go ay kuryente lamang, o pekeng balita na pilit na inuugnay sa administrasyon (Expect tomorrow that the alleged involvement of SAP Bong Go is nothing but fake news which is forcibly being linked to the administration)," Roque added.